Fine art of raising cash: Michelle Ramin funds MFA degree selling her works

When artist Michelle Ramin was accepted to the San Francisco Art Institute to pursue her MFA in painting, she knew she couldn't miss the opportunity. However, she also knew the income from her job at an art supply store would not cover the costs to supplement her move. She thought of asking friends and family for money, but decided people should receive something in exchange for their donation. Her answer to that "something" was her very own original artwork.

To sell these pieces, Ramin began a daily auction on June 20 through her blog, "How I Got to Grad School on a Shoestring Budget." This Saturday, July 24, marks the end of the online auction and the in-person auction and ice cream social hosted by the Portland, Ore. False Front Studio.

Each day, a piece with a price ranging from $5 to $500 goes on auction from midnight to midnight. The bidding for each item begins significantly lower than her usual retail price. Initially she said she had doubts the auction would work. After the first few days of bidding wars, however, she was amazed at people's contributions to her cause.

As an exhibited artist since 2006, Ramin had plenty of paintings at her disposal to include in the auction. Though her work has gone through some transitions, her aesthetic remains the same: Even when her subject is of a hard industrial nature, her paintings have a light and vibrant tone.

"In the past, I've worked a lot with abstract oil painting as well as architectural drawings of bridges, houses, and other structural, man-made elements," she said. " Right now, the work that I'm creating could be described as illustrative portraiture perhaps, mostly done in mixed media with graphite and acrylic on wood panels."

Ramin hopes to use her MFA to not only further her own painting career but also to foster growth in her artists. Ramin said: "I want to pursue an MFA so that I can become a professional artist -- so that I can make work that is at once conceptually intriguing and aesthetically pleasing," She added her intent to teach at the university level and said, "I'm excited for the prospect of giving back to students the knowledge that I've acquired through my own experiences making and selling art."

While Ramin uses art to fund her education, other artists exchange their craft for other goods and services. OurGoods facilitates the "barter of skills, space, labor and art objects." Bartered goods have included a violin concert, unlimited access to do laundry and even the design of the OurGoods web site.

"Art is a unique field in that every aspect of it is about thinking outside of the box," Ramin said. "It's one thing to think about creating the art and how to put together the perfect piece; it's quite another to think about how to market yourself, sell yourself, get your name known in the art world at large."